Pick your favorite cliche’ – “Turn the page”…”put it in your rear view mirror”…”move on”…”put it behind you”. The choice hardly matters. The reality is that in his SOTU address, the president transitioned directly to the present and future without so much as a nod towards the thumping that the Democrats took in the recent midterm election. (1) What Obama did instead was what he has often done in his six-plus years in office; i.e. play the “long game” with a clear cut strategy in mind.
In his speech, after running through a laundry list of the notable progress we have made in coming out of the deep recession, (2) he laid out an ambitious agenda for not just the next two years, but beyond. He spoke of “…what kind of a nation we choose to be (now and for)… the next 15 years”.
The fact of the matter is that the agenda and the means to pay for its components haven’t a chance in Hell of getting through the GOP-controlled Congress. Be assured that the president is all too well aware of this. In that case, why did he bother? Why not something that might actually be doable?
The answer to that last question goes back to Obama’s statement about the sort of “nation we choose to be”. His vision simply does not coincide in any significant way with that of a Republican party that has lurched so far to the right, that any meaningful common ground between the two is illusory. If such is indeed the case, then what’s the purpose of the “pie-in-the-sky with-no-hope” agenda?
It’s all about the president’s immediate and long-game strategy: Obama is betting that there are at least some parts of his plans that will gain traction with average Americans (3). If and when that becomes increasingly evident, Congressional Republicans will be caught between two tough choices; i.e. either compromise with Obama to get small parts of his agenda accomplished and thus prove that they can govern, OR maintain their obstructionist style and accomplish nothing. The first option will attract the average American but infuriate the conservative base both in and out of Congress. The second option will placate the same right-wing base, but put off the average American. Note that neither choice is a good one; both are bad and the GOP’s Congressional leadership will have to decide which is the least bad and proceed accordingly.
In contrast, Democratic party candidates at every level will be able to evaluate which items in the Obama agenda are resonating with the general public and shape their campaign messages to fit their own constituencies. On a national level, this approach will allow the Democrats’ presidential candidate to tailor his/her message to the country as a whole, confident in the knowledge that at least important parts of it are almost assured of playing well.
Taken en toto, what the president has done is what every good leaders does: You do not dwell on past losses. Rather, you take a lesson from them, and promptly look to the future with a plan that will rally folks behind you. (4) It remains to be seen how all this will pan out. But, Obama may prove to be the master of the game leaving Republicans to wonder why they have such trouble winning the presidency.
1. Republican members of Congress were piqued over the president’s clear, purposeful refusal to eat “humble pie”. How dare he not pay us our due?
2. Recall “What You’re Not Likely to Hear” and “Obama’s ‘Triple Play’ ” published at this site in the last month.
3. Recent economic good news has had the effect of bumping Obama’s approval rating up to 50%. The instant poll conducted as he delivered his SOTU speech drew an overall approval rating in the mid-70’s.
4. Successful coaches know and practice this. In golf, you must put that last bad shot behind you and prepare mentally and physically for the next one.